I recently attended a retirement celebration for a psychologist friend of mine. She spoke of how she used to be an introvert, but she could not remain as an introvert for long in the organization she worked for. Soon after, I was listening to a radio psychologist who said that he was an introvert, but people that he shared this with act surprised saying something like “you don’t act like an introvert” since he is on the radio, does public speaking, and is generally friendly and outgoing. In both of these cases the word “introvert” is being used synonymously with “shy” rather than it’s true meaning.
Introverted does not mean shy. Sure…some introverts are “quiet” in social situations, but some are not. Some introverts have always been as social as they want to be. And for some introverts – like me – being more social can be learned.
Introversion and extroversion are at opposite ends of the scale of whether you spend more time inside your head with your thoughts (introversion) or are more stimulated by the outside world and what is happening around you (extroversion). This is not a measure of whether you are shy and insecure or bold and self-confident. Shyness or self-confidence are learned behaviors and can be changed, but being introverted or extroverted is part of your personality.
I am troubled that introversion is still so misunderstood, even by some psychologists. As I have studied introversion extensively over the years, both in myself and others, here’s my take on introversion:
I am naturally drawn to the inner world of ideas and have a great imagination.
I spend more time in thought than I do focusing on the world around me.
I think before I speak.
I do better when I prepare in advance for meetings, presentations, and speeches.
Sometimes I need some time alone to think and recharge. I have learned what triggers my need for some solitude.
Often I need time to process answers to questions, especially complex ones.
I prefer deep conversations to small talk.
I also prefer having a few deep relationships to many casual acquaintances.
Coming to understand these ideas has made all of the difference in the world for me. I used to have difficulty in some social situations, because I didn’t understand myself and somehow felt that I was “less-than”… But understanding who I am and how I naturally function frees me to be who I want to be. But my point is that no matter how comfortable I am in social situations and regardless of whether I am “quiet” in some settings, the things that make me an introvert will not ever change. What is at the core of my introversion is who I am. Understanding these things about my personality allows me to make changes in how I do things, and how I approach situations. By learning who I am I can learn the very best way to accomplish my goals. There are great gifts that come from introversion. What are your gifts? Let people know.